August 22, 2010

The WHAT, WHO, and WHEN of successful change

In this post, I have explained that the claim that 80% of the change initiatives fail is largely unfounded and potentially harmful. Published success rates vary rather widely per type of change and over time. But they also depend on the types of success criteria used and on whom you ask. Following up on that post, here are some thoughts on how you might differentiate in the way you measure the rate of success of a certain change program. I suggest to distinguish three dimensions:

1. The WHAT of successful change is about the question to which types of improvement the change initiative has led. Remember, a project may be successful in one sense but less so in another sense. There are, of course, many different ways of distinguishing dimensions of effectiveness but I'd like to elaborate on one provided by Dutch consultant Weggeman. He once wrote that better can mean: more effective, more efficient, more flexible and more pleasant. I'd like to change a few things about that and turn it into:
  1. More effective,
  2. Less expensive, 
  3. Faster, 
  4. More flexible, 
  5. More pleasant. 
2. The WHO of successful change is about the question what different (types of) people may say about to what extent the change initiative was successful or not. Remember, a consultant who has designed and facilitated the change process may be more inclined to speak of success than an administrative worker who has had to change his entire way of working in order to reduce costs. Who could you invited to answer the question of to what extent the change initiative was successful? Broadly, you may think of:
  1. Managers
  2. Employees throughtout the organization
  3. Owners
  4. Customers,
  5. Suppliers, and even 
  6. Representatives of society and/or special interest groups
  7. Representatives of (local) government
  8. Creditors
3. The WHEN of successful change is about the question of at which point in time you look at it. Establishing personnel satisfaction right after a management team has decided to make some changes may lead to very different results from asking them one year later. Depending on the type of project, you may want to evaluate at the following points in time:
  1. During the change
  2. Right after the project is finished, 
  3. (for instance) half a year after the project is finished, 
  4. (for instance) a year after the project is finished. 
    The picture below visualizes this.




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